Cal football narrowly falls to UCLA, 36-34

Michael Tao/Senior Staff

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It was 2nd and 7 on the UCLA 36, and the Bears trailed by two. There was a TV timeout, so on the sidelines the coaches were talking about what the next play was going to be. They wanted to get the ball to about the 25-yard line to set up a potential game-winning field goal.

Jared Goff took the snap and saw Kenny Lawler streaking downfield. On the previous drive, Goff found Lawler for a 23-yard touchdown pass, so Goff had hoped to have similar luck on this play. But unlike the previous play, the defensive back, Marcus Rios, wasn’t playing press coverage. He was rolling back, playing for the deep ball, and when Goff threw it down the sideline, Rios was in the perfect position to pick off the slightly overthrown pass.

Interception.

The Bears lost, 36-34, snapping a seven-game home win streak for Cal against the Bruins.

“Just not a very smart play by me, I think,” Goff said. “Probably not the best play in that situation.”

Goff, who went 25 for 41 for 303 yards and two touchdowns with just the one interception, was sacked three times and was under pressure on a number of other occasions. All three times he was sacked, the Bears were forced to punt shortly thereafter, unable to recover from the loss of yards.

“For the most part, a lot of those sacks were my fault,” Goff said. “I’ve got to get rid of the ball.”

The offensive line troubles also meant running back Daniel Lasco wasn’t able to maneuver as much. Lasco, who was averaging 5.8 yards per attempt and 79.8 yards per game before this game, averaged only 2.3 per attempt today and had 44 total yards.

Goff was able to look downfield and find receivers even though he was forced into a tiny pocket, using that new fade he’s been able to incorporate into his repertoire. Both Trevor Davis and Lawler had touchdown grabs from Goff — with Chris Harper adding one from freshman Luke Rubenzer — showing once again that the Bears have one of the most talented receiving corps in the Pac-12.

But in terms of game statistics, UCLA looked better than Cal in every relevant category. The Bruins had 33 first downs to the Bears’ 21. UCLA rushed for 237 yards while Cal rushed for just 56. The Bruins had 201 more total offensive yards than the Bears.

But the Bears were kept in the game, interestingly, by the defense. Or, more so, by bad play from the Bruins’ offense. The Cal defense created three turnovers — two fumbles, one interception — that helped the Bears in the game.

Linebacker Hardy Nickerson was involved on both fumble plays; he recovered one fumble and forced the other. The rest of the defense, too, had some nice moments and big stops, but the unit as a whole had trouble tackling.

On numerous occasions, a Bruin player who looked as though he should have been brought down was able to get more than five yards. The worst was a punt return where returner Mossi Johnson ran into at least three Bears but emerged unscathed to return the ball for 67 yards.

“We left some passes out there,” Nickerson said. “The screen pass before halftime, guys missing the gaps, guys missing the tackles. It’s just focus, we’ve got to make sure you square up, wrap your feet. That’s the technique we have to work on, just finishing.”

Linebacker Michael Barton said the tackling was a major problem and is something the team will have to address immediately in practice next week.

“That’s something that’s very unacceptable by us, and that’s something that’s got to change,” Barton said.

At halftime, head coach Sonny Dykes talked to the defense about their troubles tackling and said he thought the second half was a bit better.

“I thought our tackling was poor,” Dykes said. “I didn’t think we played well at all. You have to give our guys credit for playing really really hard in the second half.”

Wide receivers Trevor Davis and Chris Harper both went down on the field with injuries and had to be helped off the field, Davis in a stretcher. Dykes said Davis will go to the hospital for further tests but appeared to be OK, and he didn’t have an update on Harper.

“You hate to see a friend go down like that,” Nickerson said of Davis. “I wish the best for him. I’m praying for him, and I wish him a speedy recovery.”

Shannon Carroll covers football. Contact her at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @scarroll43.